Returned Missionaries

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The other day we ran into an old friend who was talking about her daughter. The daughter had stopped going to church at one point. The friend explained to us how she came around, started coming back to church and was married in the temple. At the apex of her excitement at her daughter’s renewed faith, she mentioned that not only did she marry in the temple, but she married a returned missionary.

Have returned missionaries been reduced to nothing more than prizes for young women who stay faithful? Is marrying a returned missionary a sign of a woman’s righteousness? Was I completely oblivious to all that?

I know teenage member girls always fawned over my companions and I, but I dealt with that before my mission from member and non-member girls alike. I assumed it was simply an extension of that.

All I know is the last thing I wanted to do was marry a returned missionary.

26 thoughts on “Returned Missionaries

  1. Kim…Are you channeling my husband? It’s like his thoughts…word for word. Especially the part about not wanting to marry a returned missionary. But that’s a whole ‘nother post…

    If returned missionaries are “prizes for faith young women” the good part is they usually come with a free set of knives (or three or four if our wedding gifts were any indication).

  2. Seriously Kim? The last thing you wanted was to marry a returned missionary?
    So you could marry anyone in the world and the last 3 on your list would be…
    deranged lunatic murderer, psychopath child molester, and LDS returned missionary?

  3. Hee hee, my husband went to BYU for a semester before his mission and girls would not even talk to him because he wasn’t an RM. He said it was “absolutely demoralizing.” (snerk)

  4. I think you’re making a mistake by equating a mother’s pleasure that her daughter has married a returned missionary with believing that returned missionaries are nothing but prizes. The fact that the daughter’s husband had served a mission is an indication to this mother that he is faithful in the gospel and both holds and honors the priesthood. Of course those traits are not universal among returned missionaries, but the fact of having served a mission is an indicator of their likelihood. So why shouldn’t mom be proud and happy for her daughter in having found and chosen a man who she (the mother) believes is likelier to be a good husband and father based on this trait (the mission)? If mom said, “And she married a kind and generous man,” would you conclude that the kind and generous have been transformed into mere prizes for lucky brides? Of course that conclusion would be unwarranted. It’s unwarranted with regard to returned missionaries, too.

  5. “If mom said, “And she married a kind and generous man,” would you conclude that the kind and generous have been transformed into mere prizes for lucky brides?”

    But that’s just it. Mothers don’t say that; even if their sons-in-law are kind and generous. Kind and generous aren’t what is important; being a returned missionary is. They don’t care whether he is a hard worker or not, whether he is charitable or not, whether he is a good provider or not, whether he has career plans or not. Or maybe they do, but they never say it. All that seems to matter is that he’s a returned missionary.

  6. But aren’t you a little too eager to criticize this mom just because her praise for the young man in question is one step removed from his character traits? She seems to believe that “returned missionary” is short for “there’s a very good chance that he’s a man of strong moral character, with valuable experience and gospel knowledge, who takes the priesthood seriously and will take seriously the covenant that he and my daughter make with the Lord.” Is she to be faulted for using that shorthand just because such traits aren’t universal among returned missionaries? I doubt very strongly that this mom doesn’t care about his actual character but only about his having “checked the box” of a mission. I do think that she relies on the reasonably but not infallibly reliable assumption that checking that box indicates certain traits, or at least the probability of such traits, in her son-in-law.

  7. “But aren’t you a little too eager to criticize this mom”

    I feel no eagerness to the situation. I had an experience and shared that experience as well as the thoughts it instilled in me. If I was at all eager, I would have posted this sooner than two weeks after the fact.

    “She seems to believe that ‘returned missionary’ is short for ‘there’s a very good chance that he’s a man of strong moral character, with valuable experience and gospel knowledge, who takes the priesthood seriously and will take seriously the covenant that he and my daughter make with the Lord.'”

    Exactly. And she’s not the only person that makes this assumption. It is very common.

    “I doubt very strongly that this mom doesn’t care about his actual character but only about his having ‘checked the box’ of a mission.”

    Then why mention only that he’s a returned missionary? Why not mention any of his actual character traits?

  8. For the reasons I already mentioned in my previous post. Because it indicates some other things, or at least the strong likelihood of them. Why say “she has a Ph.D. from Harvard, when instead you could mention all the specific classes she took, or all the fields of study she’s undertaken, or each and every fact she’s amassed in her education? Because the shorthand is useful.

    Why shouldn’t “returned missionary” be a thing worth mentioning–even a point of pride.

  9. “Why shouldn’t “returned missionary” be a thing worth mentioning–even a point of pride.”

    Because, in reality, it has no meaning other than the person served a mission.

    I personally know returned missionaries who smoked on their mission, some who did nothing but watch TV and listen to music, some who drank alcohol, some who bought guns, some who smoked marijuana, some who bought chewing tobacco, some who had sex, some who slept all day except to go to dinner appointments, and so forth.

  10. Yes, it’s true that you can always point to the exception rather than to the rule. You may also be familiar with people who hold advanced degrees and yet have never really mastered the ability to think clearly or see beyond their own prejudices. But that wouldn’t be a valid reason to say they should stop using the degree as a credential. There’s no reason this mother should not be pleased that her son in law served a mission. It’s odd that one should find such grave fault in her for expressing her pleasure at one thing but failing to mention the particular other thing that one thinks she should also have mentioned. No one mentions everything at the same time. It really, truly is OK to be glad he served a mission, just for its own sake. The mission itself is a good thing, and the fact that missions can be perverted or misused doesn’t negate that truth.

  11. “Yes, it’s true that you can always point to the exception rather than to the rule.”

    How do you know that it’s not the other way around? How do you know that the exception isn’t the ideal returned missionary everyone has in mind?

    “It’s odd that one should find such grave fault”

    Grave fault?

    “The mission itself is a good thing”

    Precisely.

  12. I know as most people know–from first-hand experience. Most missionaries are good. Most mission experiences make them better people. It did that for me and it has done that for most of the people I have known who have served missions. And yes–“precisely”–the mission experience, for the reasons I’ve stated so many times, is–itself–a good thing, a thing to be pleased about. You seem oddly determined not to believe in the intrinsic goodness of missions, but I don’t know why.

    In all candor, however, I no longer have the time and energy to pursue the question, and I’m going to have to give up this dialogue. If you have had or ever do have a mission experience of your own, I sincerely hope it has been or will be a good one.

  13. “I know as most people know–from first-hand experience. Most missionaries are good. Most mission experiences make them better people.”

    I am interested in how you came to this conclusion. Was there a study done? Do you know all the people who have ever served a mission?

    “You seem oddly determined not to believe in the intrinsic goodness of missions, but I don’t know why.”

    No, I am not. I believe that missions are intrinsically good, in that they introduce people to the gospel. What I know is that not all returned missionaries are the same. I also know that not all returned missionaries benefited from their missions, and that some missionaries did not change their pre-mission activities during or after their missions.

    “If you have had or ever do have a mission experience of your own, I sincerely hope it has been or will be a good one.”

    It was for the most part, but it would have been better if I didn’t have to babysit missionaries who didn’t want to work, didn’t want to be there and were insisted on breaking mission rules/commandments.

  14. Kim,

    You are absolutely right with respect to the nature of some missionaries. Hopefully, with the new rules in place we will find fewer and fewer of the deadbeats around.

    There is a particular problem with the idea that being a returned missionary equates with being the answer to every young woman’s dreams though. There is a growing (even serious)concern with respect to the number of returned missionaries going inactive (a high percentage), and among those left, the reluctance to date and get serious about marriage.

    The divorce rate is extremely high in the Church, and any precautions that a young lady would take in finding a husband among non-returned missionaries needs to be taken with respect to returned missionaries.

  15. A year or two ago, they “brethren” came out with the idea that missionaries needed to be more prepared when they come on their missions. They called it “raising the bar”. I haven’t been directly involved in calling missionaries, so I am not sure if there are any rules per se in choosing missionaries, let alone if there are any changes in such rules.

    What I do know is that the calibre of missionaries going out (or at least leaving from here) hasn’t seemed to have changed.

    There was also at the same time the advice that those who did not serve should not be looked upon as a lower class member, worthy or not. That being said, the stigma directed toward those who don’t serve or who came home early from their missions is still there. Particularly here in southern Alberta.

  16. How do you reach the conclusion that the calibre of departing missioinaries hasn’t changed? Has there been a study done? Do you personally know every personal trait and habit of every departing missionary?

    How do you reach the conclusion that people are stigmatized for not serving missions or not completing them? Has there been a study done? Have you personally witnessed all of the personal interactions that have taken place between these people and those you say are stigmatizing them?

    If you demand that a scientific study be conducted in order to prove that the majority of missionaries are not seriously misbehaving then why do you not demand the same standard of scientific proof for these assertions?

    The standard of proof you demand, of course, leads to absurdities such as these. It also leads to the even worse conclusion that no mother in law should be proud of her son in law for serving a mission, unless she is backed by scientific data showing that he was a good missionary, or at least that most missionaries are good.

  17. The difference between what you said, ltbugaf, and what I said was that you were quantifying (i.e. most people, most missionaries, most mission experiences, etc) and I was not.

    The demand I put forth was for you to substantiate such quantification.

    What I said, however, was that the calibre of missionaries (at the least those leaving from my area) seemed to not have changed. Perhaps it has changed; however, the perception is that it has not.

    Same goes for the statement on the stigma. And the topic of the post solidifies this statement.

    I am guessing you have the time and energy to pursue this question again. Welcome back.

  18. Well, I’m not sure I really do have the time and energy. As a law student and father of five, I have quite a bit to do. But after leaving for the weekend, I visited to see what had popped up and gave in to the temptation to comment one more time. Frankly, I think I was giving in to my own pettiness. I don’t like the tone of what I’ve said. In fact, I don’t like the tone of our whole conversation–it seems to have become more of a fight than an edifying conversation on a gospel topic. I regret giving in to the temptation to continue that trend. I think my original intent was much nobler–I just wanted to say, “maybe we shouldn’t be so hard on Mother in Law just because she’s proud of someone for going on a mission.” But somehow it’s degenerated into something I find quite ugly.

    I do continue to believe that most missionaries aren’t the kind that seriously misbehave, even though, like you, I’m familiar with those in my own mission who did so. I just think this is something so apparent to those who are familiar with missions that it’s an acceptable premise without a demand for scientific proof. (How would you word the study? “Please check box A if you’re a righteous missionary and B if you’re not.”) I don’t demand scientific studies to show that MOST men aren’t rapists or that MOST teenagers don’t rob convenience stores. I just live in a world where that’s kind of obvious. It’s similarly obvious as I deal with missionaries on a very frequent basis that most of them are very good people, and that the mission experience is good for them as well as being good for those who are taught the gospel.

    Anyway, I hope you’ll accept my hand of friendship. I’d better get back to reading the law.

  19. “I don’t demand scientific studies to show that MOST men aren’t rapists or that MOST teenagers don’t rob convenience stores.”

    I do, but only if someone makes such claims. After all, there is a difference between saying “most men aren’t rapists” and saying “I believe that most men aren’t rapists”.

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